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The Good, The Bad - AKA The Balanced Review
A Little About Littlewoods
Littlewoods Shop Direct Group is the UK's biggest 'shop at home group', which includes catalogue and online shopping from Littlewoods, Littlewoods Direct and Littlewoods Ireland, as well as Additions Direct, Choice, Great Universal, Kays, and Marshall Ward. According to their corporate website, they have 5 million customers, and annual sales of around £2 billion; a thought which really sickens me after my experiences with them.
The Littlewoods website can be accessed by typing littlewoods.com, littlewoods.co.uk, or a whole host of other addresses which are longer and more difficult to remember than these two. On the whole the site usually loads quickly, but at certain times it can seem to take forever to fully load.
On entering the website, you are greeted by a very simple but professional looking homepage, designed in black and white. At the very top of the page is the Littlewoods logo, along with their orderline number. Next to this are the search box, 5 important links (I'll explain these later), and the shopping basket. A menu bar with links to the main departments separates this top section from the rest of the page, whilst a more extensive menu runs down the left hand side. The majority of the rest of the page is taken up by photo links to special offers or new product ranges, and they sometimes have an annoying popup which comes up here reminding you to buy product cover, enter a competition, or order the latest catalogue. And finally, right at the bottom of the page are links to information about the company, delivery and returns, terms and conditions etc.
No matter what page you are on within the site, the top and bottom of the page remain the same, so it's always easy to navigate using the links in these sections to get to wherever you want to go next, without having to go back to the homepage. The left hand menu also remains there, and expands to give you more options within each department, to make it as easy as possible to find what you're after without having to search through the whole catalogue.
The Search box allows you to search either by keyword or item number, the latter of which can be handy if you prefer flicking through the paper catalogue to searching through pages and pages of items on a website. I find the search function can often be really slow, and when searching by keyword it often comes up with quite a few erroneous results. Once you've got your search results you have the options to sort your results by department, brand, or price, which can make it easier to find just what you're after.
The 5 links on the top of the page are as follows:
To log into this section you'll need either your email address and password, or your Account number and password, or if you've never shopped online with them before you'll need to register.
After logging into the My Account section, you are taken to a summary of your account, detailing your account number, credit limit, balance, and your personal details. On the left of the screen are the links to perform different functions on your account. From here you can easily make payments to your account, set up direct debits, take out shopping insurance, view statements, update your details, track orders, arrange returns, and view account-related FAQ's. There's also an 'account queries' button, which lets you quickly and easily send an email regarding your account (just don't expect a sensible or timely reply), without having to spend time filling in all your details first. The last option on this page is 'My Offers', which takes you to a page of items which are supposedly 'personal recommendations', but frankly I really doubt there's anything personal about them.
Again you'll need to sign in to this area with your email address or account number, and password. You'll then be taken to a screen which shows your recent orders and their status, for example, the order may show as processing, shipped, or delivered, depending on what stage of the process it's currently at. So if you haven't received an item that you should have you can check on it's status really easily here, before having to contact them.
This section allows you to quickly place an order using the catalogue numbers of your desired items, so if you've looked through the catalogue and decided what you want you can just type the numbers in here rather than having to search for them, so it makes the whole process much quicker. You can enter up to 12 items at a time, then you just click the next button to be taken to a page where you can select the options for your items (colour, size etc.) all in one go, then go straight to the checkout.
The help page is arranged with several tabs across the top, making it easier to find the information you're after. When you first click on the Help link you're taken to the FAQ page which has questions from each of the categories on the tabs, so it's up to you how you want to navigate through the help section. There are sections on how to use the site, how to order and how to make a payment, as well as sections on delivery and returns, privacy policies and the My Account section. There is also a Contact Us tab for if your question isn't answered within the FAQ's.
To be honest I've never found the Help section to be of much use, every time I've needed help it's been about something which is not answered on the help pages, so I've had to contact them instead, which is a waste of time as all I get is automated emails which do not address my query at all.
This one's fairly self explanatory, it logs you out of the site. However, it seems to always get stuck whenever I click this link and I end up having to close the page without logging of, which is rather annoying, but I'm sure this won't be a problem for everyone.
The departments are Women, Men, Kids & Nursery, Sports, Home & Garden, Furniture, Electricals, Appliances, Toys, Jewellery & Gifts, and Wedding Shop.
Many of the departments have an overlap, for example sports clothing can be found in the Sports department, as well as the Men/Women/Kids departments, so things are usually easy to find. I have noticed however, that some things are not listed where you would expect to find them, it's sometimes taken me ages to find what I'm after because it's been listed somewhere really obscure rather than in the relevant department.
Each department is broken down into sub-sections so if you're looking for something in particular you can go straight to the relevant section rather than trawling through loads of irrelevant products.
When you browse the departments it shows the catalogue pages, just as they are in the paper catalogue, so you can flick through it page by page, or skip ahead to relevant sections. Then once you've found something you like you can click on the picture of it on the page and it will take you to the description of that item, and any related items, for example if it showed an outfit made up of shorts and a top and you clicked on the top, it would usually show you both the top and the shorts.
When you click to view an item it comes up with all the
details there are for that particular item, including pictures, size or measurement details, colour options, and a description of the item. Sometimes the pictures are not the best quality and sometimes they're so distant that you can barely make out what the item actually looks like. This is where the zoom function should come in - you can zoom in on any detail of the picture that you want to see better, however, the zoom is really not that good and it loses picture quality really quickly when you start to zoom in on something, the more you zoom, the worse it gets, so it's really not that helpful after all.
In the clothing sections it also displays a sizing chart beneath the description of the product, so you don't have to go hunting round the site for one when you've already found the item you want, as you do have to on plenty of other sites.
On the whole the item details are accurate, but there are sometimes mistakes, such as the wrong colour or size being displayed. Also sometimes when I click on an item to view it, it takes me to a completely different item, or it will not load the page at all on particular items even though the rest of the site loads fine, so it's not always perfect.
Range & Prices
They do stock a good range including well known brands and some less well known ones. As an example, in the women's sportswear section, they stock Adidas, Nike, Reebok, Fred Perry, Puma and New York Yankees - all well known brands. They also then stock Eckored, Zoo York, G Unit, and their own brand. This is the same across most departments, giving the consumer a wide choice of brand and price range. They have all the well known brands that you would expect to find in such a large company, and a few extras that you may never have seen anywhere else.
One major down point is the prices. They are, even as catalogue shopping goes, very expensive. If you compare them to Great Universal, one of the other companies under the Littlewoods brand, they have exactly the same range (If you get both the catalogues you can plainly see that they are practically identical apart from the front cover, and the website's are identical but for the colours and fonts used), yet often I have found it would be more expensive to shop with Littlewoods, though I do have to say they seem to have closed the gap price-wise recently.
When you look at the sales leaflets they send out regularly, you can see there are some brilliant bargains, often with up to 70% off major brands, and you could potentially make some great savings. However, every time I've gone to look at the sales items, even right at the beginning of the sale, most items are sold out already, but they don't remove these items from the sales pages. It can be very disappointing looking through the sales pages and thinking you've found a bargain, only to find that they're already sold out, and as far as I'm concerned they should not leave the items up there when they are no longer available.
One of my pet hates when shopping online is when you find something you really want and then find it's out of stock or, even worse, when it says it's in stock when it actually isn't. Littlewoods really falls down on both these counts for me. When browsing through the catalogue there are far too many out of stock items displayed, you'd think a huge company like Littlewoods would have better stock levels, but no, every time I find an item of clothing I like (and believe me I don't go for the 'in' fashions that everyone is wearing), they're out of stock of either my size or the colour I wanted, which is very frustrating. They also have a habit of saying things are in stock when they're not. I've often ordered something that was displayed as being in-stock only to find it's not been included in my order when I receive it because it's out of stock! Ridiculous and really annoying!
To add things to your shopping basket you just need to click through to the item you want, enter any size, colour and payment options, and click the button to add it to your basket.
On the shopping basket you can view everything you've added to your basket in a very easy to understand format, with pictures of the items as well as just the descriptions, which makes it much easier when going through checking your items as you can instantly see what is what. You can then amend any items where you may have entered incorrect size or colour, change quantity, or remove the item from your basket.
There is also a box below your items for entering any promotional codes you may have before you proceed to the checkout.
The checkout process is fairly quick and easy, though if you haven't shopped with them before you'll need to register before you can complete checkout.
Once you've added your items to your basket and checked that all the details are correct, you're ready to click the checkout button. On the next screen you're asked to choose whether or not you've shopped with them before. If you've never shopped with them before you'll be taken to a registration page where you have to fill out all your details and create a password that you'll use to login to your account. If you already have an account you have to choose whether or not you've shopped online before. If you haven't you'll be taken to a registration page to manage your account online, and if you have you'll be asked to login.
Once you're logged in to the checkout you have to confirm your details and order details before clicking on the final confirmation button and sending your order. They'll then send you an email confirmation with your order number, but in my experience this can take up to a couple of days to arrive.
You have the options of paying by credit or debit card, or by Littlewoods account.
If you choose to pay by debit card then the payment will be taken when you place the order, or if you choose to pay by credit card the payment will be taken on the expected despatch date.
If you choose to open an account with them they will give you options of different payment plans to spread the cost of your order. All items can be spread over 20 weeks, and items over £60 can be spread over 1 year. These payments are interest free, so they can be a good way to buy things if you cannot afford to pay upfront. They also have options of spreading the cost over longer periods of time, but you will pay interest if you choose this option.
If you open an account with them they will send you monthly statements which will tell you how much you still owe them and what your minimum payment is. You can of course, choose to pay off as much of your balance as you like. You can pay your invoice by credit/debit card or cheque, and you can choose to send the payment by post, online or by phone, or for a 50p charge you can pay at the Post Office.
Once you have an account with them they will also send you regular buy now pay later deals, so that you can buy items and not have to start paying for them for a number of months, which can be really handy in certain situations, for instance if your washing machine broke down and you couldn't afford a new one at the time, you could order a new one straight away and not have to pay for it until months later.
You will have a set credit limit which they will tell you when you open your account, so obviously you do have to keep within your limit.
Delivery & Returns
Standard delivery is free, and they claim that most in-stock goods are delivered within 48 hours. In the case of appliances and larger items, they say that in-stock items will be delivered within 10 days. However, delivery is usually by courier, and as they work for themselves and to their own time scales, delivery times can vary considerably. There's one courier working my area who is absolutely fantastic and always delivers within the promised timescales, but others have taken weeks to get my goods to me, so it just depends on who you get really.
There are extra services and delivery options you can pay for - next day delivery or named day delivery for regular items costs £3.95, and there are various options for appliance delivery and connection ranging from £20 for washers and dryers, to £80 for cookers.
Generally I find the delivery times Ok for in-stock items, but if you ever order anything that's not in stock it's a whole different story. On out of stock items it tells you how long you should have to wait for delivery, times usually range from 10 - 28 days. What they don't tell you is that these times are usually completely made up and they may not get the product to you for months. They then keep ringing you or writing to you saying it's been delayed and it will be with you by such-and-such date.
The last time I ordered from them I ordered 3 pieces of matching furniture - 1 was in stock, and the other 2 it said would be delivered within 14 days. I received the in stock item about 2 weeks after ordering, then I had a massive wait for the second and third pieces, during which time they wrote to me every week telling me it had been delayed and giving me a new delivery date, which was always about a week from when the letter was written. The second piece turned up 2 months after I'd ordered it, and the third took a whole 5 months to arrive, during which time I'd accumulated a huge pile of 'sorry, your item has been delayed' letters, 3 of which were written and posted on the same day, all with different delivery dates on! It is very annoying when you have to wait that long for a piece of furniture at any rate, even without the blatant lies about when it's going to be delivered.
Returns are also free, and you can arrange a return online or by phone, and a courier will then arrange to pick the items up from your address. Alternatively you can post the goods back to them. In addition to being able to return faulty/damaged/wrong items, they operate a 'Home approval guarantee', which means that you have 14 days from the goods being delivered to you to decide whether or not you wish to keep them. You can then return any unwanted items regardless of your reason for not wanting them, as long as they are unused, in the original packaging and with tags still attached. This allows you to try on clothes and check the quality of the items, which I think is essential when buying mail order.
Oh dear, I fear if I start talking about customer services I may never be able to stop, but I'll try to control myself.
I'd describe the customer service as terrible to non-existant. When you phone them they pass you from one department to another until someone along the line decides to hang up on you. Alternatively, if you do actually manage to get through to the 'right' person, they have no interest in listening to anything you have to say, they just insist on repeating the exact same irrelevant twaddle (which they're clearly reading off a computer screen) at you until either you give up or they get annoyed that you dare try and get a word in edgeways and start shouting at you. Either way phoning them never accomplishes anything.
So then there's the option of emailing them. Wait up to 3 weeks for a reply (that's if you're going to get one - sometimes they just completely ignore their emails), which is inevitably an automated email which has nothing to do with anything, get annoyed at the incompetent fools who must work in the customer service department, and try again. If you're lucky you'll get a real non-automated response after the 4th or 5th try, but it still rarely addresses the problem.
Writing to them is just as bad. They ignore letters and if you email them or ring them mentioning the letters you've sent they insist that they've never received them, and are sometimes arrogant to the point of telling you you're lying about having sent the letter in the first place. It's all just more and more hassle.
When it comes to sorting out problems (and believe me, if you shop with them you WILL have problems somewhere along the line), they're absolutely useless. No-one seems to have a clue what they're doing, they say they've sorted the problem when they haven't, and then the next time you contact them they have no record of you ever having contacted them in the first place. It's a complete nightmare.
And The Ugly - AKA The Rant
(please feel free to skip straight to the end if you don't want to read a detailed account of the problems I've had with Littlewoods, it is rather a long rant)
About a year and a half ago, my dad had a rather lengthy phone call with my Nan, in which she recounted the problems she was having with her Littlewoods account. My Nan's been a loyal customer with them for many years, and has always paid off her balance on time, so you can imagine she was rather annoyed when things started to go wrong.
Basically what had happened was that she'd received a letter from a debt collection agency, saying that she owed Littlewoods hundreds of pounds, and this was her last chance to pay up before the bailiffs were sent in. She didn't owe them anything, so she rang Littlewoods, who confirmed that her account was clear, and assured her that they'd sort it out.
A few days later she received another letter just the same as the last one. Over the next few weeks she had to spend hours on the phone trying to get the situation sorted out, which as I'm sure you can imagine, was rather stressful for a lady in her 80's and not in particularly good health. After many stressful hours she did finally get the problem sorted, but she made sure to tell the members of staff that she would not be buying from them again, and they had just lost a very loyal customer and thousands of pounds worth of business.
At the time there was a part of me that thought they probably did it on purpose, preying on an old woman in the hope that she'd just pay up. It's the kind of thing you hear about on Watchdog all the time. But I was not prepared for my own experience…….
It was about 6 months later I received a letter from Wescot Credit Services, on behalf of Littlewoods. It was a 'Final Demand' letter, stating that I owed Littlewoods £369.16, and as I had not paid, the account had been handed over to them. I was told that if I did not pay within 14 days I would face a fine and possibly have to go to court.
I could not believe what I was reading. I had not received any communication from Littlewoods about this money I supposedly owed them, so how could they have handed it over to a debt collection agency without even asking me for the money in the first place? I hadn't ordered anything from them in over a year, and it had in fact been so long since I cleared my account that they had stopped sending me statements. I absolutely did NOT owe them any money.
The first thing I did was log into my account online and check my balance, which showed as £0 amount owing. So then I emailed their customer services explaining what had happened, and they confirmed that my balance was clear, but said I'd have to get in touch with Wescot directly to sort it out. The number Wescot gave in their letter was a premium rate number, and I was absolutely not going to spend my hard-earned cash on lengthy phone calls trying to sort out THEIR mess. So I decided to write to them instead.
Before I'd got around to writing the letter (I was waiting for my mam to get back from a short break so that she could help me with what to write, as I'm rubbish at dealing with this kind of thing!), I received another letter from Wescot. It was basically the same as the first one, only it also mentioned that they'd added £30 to the balance owing because I hadn't paid it in time. (This was only a few days later - what happened to the 14 days I had to pay?!)
So, I wrote to them, telling them what had happened, stating that I did not owe Littlewoods any money, that Littlewoods had confirmed this to me, and that they should get in touch with Littlewoods who will confirm this to them, before hassling me any further for money I do not owe. I also wrote to Littlewoods explaining the whole thing over again, before saying how disgusted I was that they had allowed this to happen, and asking them to close my account, as I no longer wished to deal with such an incompetent and irresponsible company.
A couple of weeks later I received a letter from Littlewoods, which read,
"Thank you for your recent enquiry regarding your credit file and information registered on it. We can confirm that your account is clear. Littlewoods Finance Company Ltd does exchange data on a monthly basis with the Credit Reference Agencies Equifax PLC, Callcredit PLC and Experian Limited. The file has already been updated to record that you have settled the account, but the information remains registered for six years. We enclose a booklet, which may be helpful to you".
Way to blatantly ignore practically everything I said in my letter! I had not made an 'enquiry regarding my credit file and information on it', I had written to complain about the fact that they could make such a mistake, ask them to communicate with Wescot the fact that I do not actually owe them anything, and ask them to close my account. None of that was even mentioned in their response. And the booklet they had sent just explained what your credit report is and what information is kept on it. I was not amused, but I decided to wait for a response from Wescot before I did anything else.
The response I received from Wescot a few weeks later read,
"Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding the above account. We acknowledge the contents of your letter, however, to enable ourselves to investigate your query further we request that you provide full details of your dispute in writing in order that we can liaise with our client. We look forward to receiving the above by return, along with payment to cover part of the balance which is not in dispute."
I had already provided the full details of the dispute in writing, in the form of my first letter. If they had actually bothered to read this, they would have known that the WHOLE of the balance was in dispute, so why on earth would I pay them anything? And why the hell can't they just talk to their client anyway? If they'd bothered to ask Littlewoods if it was true that I didn't owe them any money, or if Littlewoods had just told them that I didn't, this whole thing could have been over and done with in a jiffy, but there seems to be no communication between them at all. It's ridiculous.
By this point I was completely frustrated with the whole thing and I decided just to wait and see what happened next. I had already put my case to both Littlewoods and Wescot, and saw no reason why I should spend even more of my precious time trying to sort out a mess which they should never have allowed to happen in the first place.
I was also now totally convinced that either Wescot or Littlewoods themselves (or both) were doing this ON PURPOSE to randomly selected people (or people who they think are the easiest to con, i.e: - who they deem to be either young and naïve or old and senile), in the hope that they will pay up just to avoid the hassle. There is no other explanation for why this would have happened in the first place (to both me and my Nan), and why it could not simply be resolved when it was confirmed that I never owed this money.
Soon I received Littlewoods' newest catologue, and letters offering me discounts off my next order, proving that they had decided to completely ignore my request to close my account. I did not hear anything more about my dispute from either Littlewoods or Wescot, so after a couple of months I figured they must have finally sorted it out between themselves or I would have received another demand for money by now.
I'd pretty much forgotten about the whole thing until a few months ago, when I came back from shopping and my dad said I'd just had a phonecall, "Some company or other's gonna send the bailiffs round to take all your stuff 'cause you haven't paid some't or other", were his words, he found the whole thing highly amusing. It turned out it was Wescot, saying they'd sent a letter already and I hadn't responded, but they couldn't discuss it with my dad, so they'd ring back another time. They never did ring back, but in the next few months I received 5 letters, each a demand for more and more money, again with the threat of having to go to court if I didn't pay up. I spent ages on the phone with Littlewoods, and wrote loads of letters and emails, before finally they seem to have got it sorted out (though I wouldn't be surprised to find another final demand in my mail at any point in the future).
Since I was still receiving catalogues and letters from Littlewoods months after I had asked them to close my account, I wrote again stating that I no longer wished to deal with them and would like my account closed. I never got a response and still kept getting sales booklets and offer letters from them.
So, a couple of months ago I logged into my Littlewoods account and emailed them to ask them again to close my account. Their response said that they'd passed my query on to another department and they would contact me when they had any further information for me. I'm sorry to sound so horrible, but who the hell do they employ in these places? They'd be better off employing a bunch of dead fish for all the sense you get out of them. I hadn't made a query of any kind, I had simply TOLD them to close my account.
I have since emailed them, rang them, and written to them, probably more than 50 times in total, telling them in no uncertain terms that I want my account closed, and yet they STILL haven't closed it. I want the account closing because as long as it's open there's always the possibility of this happening again. Yet they either completely ignore my requests to close the account, or fob me off by telling me they're looking into it. I'm absolutely disgusted that they would keep an account open for this long after a request has been made to close it, never mind after the amount of times I've told them to close it! I've dealt with some pretty crappy companies before, but at least you usually have the option of leaving them, but Littlewoods simply won't allow you to leave.
The website's ok, but Littlewoods is THE single worst company I've ever had the misfortune to deal with. Personally, I will never use any of their companies again, it's just not worth the hassle. And my advice to anyone else who wants to use this website would be do not, under any circumstances, open an account with them. If you still want to buy from the website, please pay by card instead, you could be saving yourself a lot of grief.
Excellent, very detailed and balanced review. Will make sure never to buy from them!
jjcross 19.04.2011 10:33
I completely agree! They are a big con! They charge £699 for a BlackBerry Torch yet the Carphone Warehouse sell it for £450! I hate them too!. Your review is great! You must of spent ages on it! A well deserved E from me!